Koerner's repeat worth the wait

Reigning champ pulls away at the 50-mile mark while international runners fill out the top three
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
-A +A
Hal Koerner didn’t hear footsteps Saturday afternoon when he was chugging through Main Street in Foresthill. Whether it was the Allman Brothers blaring on his headphones or the crowd urging him on, something spurred Koerner to pick up the pace. Leaving his challengers in the dust at the halfway point, Koerner ran to his second straight Western States Endurance run title Saturday night. After starting at Squaw Valley Saturday morning at 5 a.m., Koerner ran across the finish line at Auburn's Placer High in 16 hours, 24 minutes, 55 seconds. The triple-digit temperatures in the canyons punished many of the runners, but Koerner dealt with the adverse conditions beautifully after his push to take the lead and build a comfortable advantage. “Coming into Michigan Bluff is the first time you see your crew and everyone for so long and I just got a huge charge from that,” Koerner said. “I’ve run this race a lot of times and just like anything else, it just gets shorter every time, so I knew I could run it pretty hard.” The Ashland, Ore. resident looked fresh at the finish, as he did in 2007, when he led from start to finish and clocked in at 16:12:16. He had to wait two years to defend his crown after the 2008 race was canceled due to wildfires in the area. On Saturday, Koerner was content to follow Mackey closely for the first half of the race. After he and Mackey cruised through the Michigan Bluff aid station together, Koerner kicked it into overdrive. By the time he reached Foresthill seven miles later, he had built a 19-minute lead on the rest of the field. Mackey ran into trouble between Michigan Bluff and Foresthill, while Koerner found another gear and made the race his own. Behind him, a fascinating duel for second place went to Tsuyoshi Kaburagi. He kept up a steady pace to clock an impressive 16:52. The international theme continued at the finish line as moments later, Great Britain’s Jez Bragg raced to the finish with Auburn’s Scott St. John pacing him. “We passed three people between No Hands (Bridge) and here,” said Bragg, who works as a construction project manager in Warwick, England. “I would bet our splits at the end were some of the quickest ever, because I was properly flying.” Stunningly absent from the field of frontrunners over the last half of the race was seven-time champion Scott Jurek. The 35-year-old physical therapist from Seattle won every Western States between 1999 and 2005. He returned this year after a three-year hiatus, but wasn’t his normal self. Jurek was in third place at the Robinson Flat aid station 29.7 miles into the race. But he withdrew from the race at Devil’s Thumb after covering 47.8 miles in 7:56. He was suffering from a foot injury and wasn’t able to keep up with the most decorated field of runners in the 35-year history of the race. “If there’s one person that had all the pressure in the world to push through (the injury), it was him,” Koerner said of Jurek. “I feel for him.” Koerner said he was drinking about 36 ounces of water every hour to stay hydrated in the blazing heat. “The canyons weren’t too bad,” he said. “The heat going into Rucky Chucky was unbelievable. In the direct sunlight, it was burning my eyes. It took a couple gut checks in there to keep going.” The women’s race had a surprise leader in Anita Ortiz. The 45-year-old mother of four from Eagle, Colo., had a lead of about 35 minutes as she cruised through the Brown’s Bar checkpoint aid station late Saturday night. Krissy Moehl was in second place while Bev Anderson-Abbs trailed in third. Three-time women’s champion Nikki Kimball was more than 90 minutes behind Ortiz at Robinson Flat — 29.7 miles into the race. Kimball raced her way into fourth place at press time, but she was well back of the lead. For more on Western States, see Monday’s Journal.